YOKOSUKA, Japan– The crew of the U.S. 7th Fleet Flagship USS Blue Ridge (LCC 19) completed a week-long Light Off Assessment (LOA) and subsequent light-off of its boilers, May 22.
The evolution, assessed by Commander, Engineering Assessments Pacific with assistance from Afloat Training Group Western Pacific, evaluated the programs, standard operating procedures, equipment, and emergency response protocols in order to ensure maximum compliance prior to lighting off the boilers for the first time following a nearly two-year maintenance availability period.
Once the crew had proven its ability to safely operate the ship’s engineering spaces, the boilers were ignited. The ship is now able to operate under its own power and one step closer to returning to sea and, being fully operational in support of 7th Fleet.
Capt. Brett E. Crozier, Blue Ridge commanding officer, compared Blue Ridge’s extended maintenance period to a baseball team preparing for the season, with the final work completion and move aboard in April analogous to ‘taking the field.’
“Today, lighting off the boilers for the first time in nearly two years, is the equivalent of the first pitch being thrown,” said Crozier. “Lighting these boilers is a reflection of all the hard work that has been put in by the crew, the Ship Repair Facility (SRF) here in Yokosuka, the contractors and the Japanese shipbuilding company assigned to complete the majority of projects. This means it’s now game time –time to play ball preparing to return to sea.”
For the Blue Ridge Engineering Department Sailors, the assessment meant several months of intensive preparations to include fire drills, repairs and maintenance.
“Completing the LOA is very significant,” said Master Chief Machinist’s Mate Damian Kelly. “It’s a testament to the resolve and fortitude of the entire Engineering department. We’ve spent many long days and nights working multiple challenges and these Sailors have completed it all while remaining professional. I’m very proud.”
The magnitude of the boilers to the Blue Ridge cannot be underestimated. They produce steam for the ship’s propulsion, electrical power, auxiliary systems and potable water. Managing the complex engineering system is no easy feat but the Blue Ridge demonstrated it was up to the task.
“This is a huge accomplishment given the large turnover of the crew in the past two years,” said Lt Cmdr. Stephen Hartley, Blue Ridge chief engineering officer.
“Since the beginning of the restricted availability, about 80% of our new engineers have come straight from boot camp or other non-engineering assignments and, for a good portion of those Sailors, it’s the first time “They had to go from learning the difference between the bow and the stern, to learning how to conduct a material check on an advanced piece of equipment,” said Hartley. “[To be able to develop brand new Sailors] is testament to the professionalism of the Engineering Department leaders.”
Blue Ridge commissioned Nov. 14, 1970, making it the oldest operational ship in the Navy. After 47 years in service, the 7th Fleet Flagship is scheduled to stay in active service for another 20-plus years.
As command ship for U.S. 7th Fleet, Blue Ridge has been forward-deployed to Yokosuka, Japan for 38 years, serving in support of security and stability in the Indo-Pacific.